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You must take allergies seriously and learn how to manage them in your setting.

This article was written by the Department for Education (DfE) in consultation with a team of early years experts and senior health professionals, including Anaphylaxis UK.


Food allergies develop when the body’s immune system reacts against food proteins which it sees as invaders. It then releases chemicals to attack.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include:

  • a red raised rash (hives)
  • tingly or itchy feeling in the mouth
  • stomach pain or vomiting
  • swelling of lips, face or eyes

These symptoms can happen on their own or they may be present in a serious reaction.

A severe reaction called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock can occur. This is a medical emergency and needs urgent treatment. Call 999 as this can be life-threatening. Before calling 999 administer the child’s autoinjector if they have one. Never move a child who is showing signs of anaphylaxis.

Any one or more of the following symptoms may be present:

  • swelling of throat, tongue or upper airways
  • difficulty swallowing
  • wheezing / noisy breathing
  • breathing difficulty
  • dizziness
  • feeling faint
  • sudden sleepiness
  • confusion
  • pale clammy skin
  • loss of consciousness

It’s possible to be allergic to anything, but there are 14 common allergens. These are:

  • celery
  • cereals containing gluten (such as wheat, barley and oats and some flours)
  • crustaceans (such as prawns, crabs and lobsters),
  • eggs
  • fish
  • lupin (such as bread made using lupin seeds)
  • milk
  • molluscs (such as mussels and oysters)
  • mustard
  • peanuts
  • sesame
  • soybeans
  • sulphur dioxide and sulphites (sometimes found in dried fruits and fruit juices)
  • tree nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts)

PDF downloadA full list of common allergens

You must find out if a child has any allergies before they are admitted into your setting.

As children may be trying some foods for the first time in your care you must know how to recognise the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction. If you suspect that a child has a food allergy, encourage parents or carers to seek advice and diagnosis from a doctor.

Make sure that parents, early years practitioners and kitchen staff all communicate with each other about food allergies. They must share information about which children have which allergies.

Always think about food allergies when food is being delivered, sorted, prepared and cooked. Avoid mixing foods that are safe with those that can cause allergic reactions.

Key takeaways

  • make sure all staff are aware of each child’s allergies
  • clearly label foods with their content
  • have separate cupboards for similar items, for example, gluten free flour and regular flour
  • avoid cross-contamination by:

    • washing hands
    • using colour-coded equipment and utensils, or practices such as labelling a child’s cup with their name if they have a milk allergy
    • having separate preparation areas for foods that are allergens
    • having rules about visitors bringing food into your setting

Further information

NHS guidance on food allergies in babies and young children.

NHS information about food allergy, including how to recognise symptoms and how to react.

Free allergy support and resources from Allergy UK, the national charity supporting people living with allergies.

Free resources are available from Anaphylaxis UK, a charity supporting people living with serious allergies.